Sometimes the best things in life are really free after all. Well, OK, personal finance services and strategy rarely fits in the ‘best things in life’ category, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important in helping you to focus more on the things that are truly the best in your life.
Many of the services I will mention have ‘non-free’ (paid) alternatives. What’s particularly great about this list is that the free offerings do not suffer in their quality in comparison to its paid competitors. In fact, many are industry leaders – or will soon be someday – in their niche.
And some of these things aren’t services at all, but rather, ways that you can get free money that you might be missing out on. No catch, other than the fact that you have to be motivated and execute, which is always easier said than done. What better time of year than the beginning?
There has been widespread concern that new consumer protection from bank overdraft fees would wipe out the ‘free’ part of free checking accounts. Many banks have eliminated free checking accounts, but some of the best online banks have not followed suit. The two best online checking accounts I’ve found are:
- Everbank Yield Pledge Checking: $0 monthly fee, $1,500 to open, free checks, zero ATM fees (they also reimburse), and a high starting interest rate of over 1%.
Free Investment Trades
Many discount brokers offer commission-free ETF trading with no fee for buying and selling those ETF’s. This is a great way to keep your investment costs low.
Free Credit Cards
When the Credit Card Act passed earlier this year, there was widespread fear that it would lead to more credit card issuers charging annual fees, particularly on cards with cashback rewards. Many of them did, however, the best rewards cards out there still have no annual fee.
As with all credit cards, in order to make them ‘free’, and even get cashback in a meaningful way, pay your balance in full each month.
Credit Karma is a completely free credit score reporting service that offers up your TransUnion credit score. Although not the FICO score used by lenders, it should give you a close approximation to what your FICO score might be. There are no hidden free trials (then get screwed with a monthly charge) and no credit card is required to sign up.
Credit Karma also announced that they are now offering free credit monitoring! This is a service that usually costs $15/month!
How does Credit Karma offer this free service? Much like the Mint.com monetization model, Credit Karma will offer up partner services as a way for you to save money.
Yes, you heard me right. Free money. No joke. You just have to have a little patience, Axl (like wait until you’re 65 type patience). If your employer matches funds that you contribute to your 401k, get as much as that free money as possible.
So many young professionals overlook this very important employment perk and they’ll be kicking themselves later in life for not having taken advantage of it and letting that free money compound over the years. It’s free money, folks! It may be the only time you’ll ever get it.
Free Capital Gains
After you’ve received your employer’s free 401k matching funds to the max extent that they offer, it’s time to go Roth – Roth IRA, that is. Since all funds that you contribute to a Roth IRA are pre-taxed, any capital gains that you make in the future are tax free. Check out the 2011 Roth IRA contribution limits (same as 2010) to find out how much you can contribute next year and start planning ahead.
Free Tax Software
Like it or not, it’s time to start working on filing your 2010 taxes. Tax software makers Turbotax and H&R Block both offer up free 1040EZ federal tax software and free federal e-filing (state is extra on both), which should be sufficient enough for 60-65% of Americans who do not itemize tax deductions (a crazy stat, if you ask me).
Free Personal Finance Software
If you haven’t used Mint.com yet? You can get automated net worth and account balance updates, find out what others in your area are spending on certain categories, and suggestions on how to save money. And it’s all free. Many knock-off services out there are charging for less.
If you’re looking for something that is simple and basic, check out my free to download budgeting spreadsheet.
Free Credit Report
Don’t let marketing companies in disguise offer you credit reports (for free or paid), when you can 3 free credit reports per year. AnnualCreditReport.com (the real-deal website, mandated by the federal government) offers you three free credit reports annually. Otherwise, it’s likely a free credit report scam you’re looking at. Space out your free credit reports every 4 months to consistently check for discrepancies. Also – you can now continuously access your TransUnion credit report from Credit Karma for free.
Have a happy and prosperous New Year!